In the 2019 legislative session, the Iowa Legislature unanimously passed House File 610, which changes how guardianships and conservatorships in Iowa will be established and maintained. The goal of the new law is to improve protections for people who are under guardianship or are alleged to lack decision making capacity, since appointing a guardian for an adult means stripping them of some of their basic rights and freedoms. Here are a few things you should know about the new law if you are a guardian or a person who has a guardian.
The new law eliminates use of the term “Ward” and “Proposed ward.” It replaces “ward” with “protected person” and “proposed ward” with “respondent.”
Elimination of “Voluntary” guardianships
The old law distinguished between “voluntary” guardianships, where someone could agree that they need a guardian without a hearing, and “involuntary” guardianships where someone else assigned a guardianship through a hearing. This meant that vulnerable people could be coerced into consenting to guardianship and losing their rights without a hearing. Now, all new guardianships will require a hearing and reasons the guardianship is necessary. A person can still ask the court for a guardian, but a hearing must be held before anyone is appointed. For people who have existing voluntary guardianships that were set up before changes to the law, their guardianships will continue but may be subject to additional requirements.
Initial care plans
The new law aims to get guardians to think in detail about what they plan to do for the protected person, and make a plan. This means guardians have to give the court an initial care plan detailing how they will use their decision making authority and what their plan is for the protected person. In response to some confusion about how existing guardianships would be affected, the Supreme Court issued an order stating that, “Guardians […] have continuing authority to perform acts concerning the protected person that were authorized prior to January 1, 2020 through the date of the guardian’s previously scheduled annual report.” The Supreme Court has also provided an Initial Care Plan form that is mandatory for guardians who are filing reports without an attorney. Currently serving guardians should file this initial care plan with their next annual report.
Changes to annual reporting requirements
Under the old law courts could, and frequently did, set the reporting period for guardianships at three or five years, or in some cases waive reporting requirements entirely. This led to a lack of reliable records of actions taken by the guardian on behalf of the protected person, which can be a problem if there were ever any questions about the guardianship.. The new law requires annual reports on every guardianship, meaning that waivers or extended reporting periods are no longer permitted. Existing guardians must now file reports annually, but it is not clear whether those who previously had a waiver should file before the end of the year, or just begin with their next scheduled report. A guardian in this situation can call the clerk of court in their guardianship’s county and ask how the court would like them to proceed. As with the initial care plan, the Supreme Court also issued a form for annual reporting.
As of January 1, 2020, all new prospective guardians will have to undergo a background check for criminal history, sex offenses, and abuse registries. Courts can review the results of background checks when deciding whether to appoint a guardian – there is nothing that automatically disqualifies a person from serving. This requirement does not affect guardians who were appointed prior to January 1, 2020.
This information is not legal advice. Individuals should contact an attorney for advice on their specific situation before proceeding.